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Weekly 2019 Legislative Session report

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met for Day 22 of its annual Regular Session on Tuesday, May 21. Thirty-nine committee meetings were held throughout the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met on Wednesday, May 22 and Thursday, May 23 for Days 23 and 24.

1,068 bills have been introduced to date.

With current plans to end the Session this coming week, the Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, May 28 for Day 25 of the Session with the House convening at 2:00 p.m. and the Senate at 3:30 p.m.

SIGNIFICANT DURING THE WEEK:

The Senate proposed Constitutional Amendment that would establish a paper lottery failed to survive a procedural vote in the House that would have allowed for a vote on the bill [SB220 by Senator Greg Albritton].

The Senate substituted and passed the 2.1 billion General Fund Budget which includes increases to the Department of Corrections, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), the Department of Mental Health, a significant decrease to Medicaid (which will be partially offset by carried over funds), and no funding for Medicaid expansion. The bill was returned to the House for action on the Senate substitute. The House non-concurred and a conference committee of House and Senate members was appointed to work out the differences [HB152 by Representative Steve Clouse].

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Along with the General Fund Budget, the Senate passed a House bill that would provide for a cost-of-living increase for state employees beginning October 1, 2019. The pay bill now goes to the Governor [HB166 by Representative Dimitri Polizos].

The House Ways and Means Education Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to the Senate passed $7.1 billion Education Trust Fund Budget. The budget is a 7 percent increase over the $6.6 billion budget passed last year for the current fiscal year. The pre-K program received the largest increase (30 percent) [SB199 by Senator Arthur Orr]. The committee also gave a favorable report to the bill that provides for a 4 percent pay raise for K-12 employees [SB192 by Senator Orr]. The bills are now pending action by the full House.

The House Education Policy Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate proposed Constitutional Amendment that would rename the State Board of Education as the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education and provide for 9 members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation of the Senate, instead of 8 members being elected by the voters. Among the duties of the new Commission would be the establishment of course study standards in lieu of common core. The bill now goes to the full House [SB397 by Senator Del Marsh].

The House substituted and passed a bill that would require a physician to exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of a child born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion. The bill is now pending in the Senate Healthcare Committee [HB491 by Representative Ginny Shaver].

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SIGNIFICANT COMMITTEE ACTION THIS WEEK:

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would require the Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop a plan for monitoring and regulating the production of hemp. The bill now goes to the full House [SB225 by Senator Tim Melson].

The Senate Judiciary committee amended and gave a favorable report to a House bill that would prohibit a person from holding or otherwise using his or her body to support a wireless communications device or standalone electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB404 by Representative K. L. Brown].

The Senate Judiciary Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a House bill that would increase the number of years a person must be admitted to practice law before he or she can qualify to be appointed or elected to a circuit or district court judgeship. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB529 by Representative David Faulkner].

The House Ways and Means Education Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would expand the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act which provides for grant funding for broadband in unserved areas of the state. The bill now goes to the full House [SB90 by Senator Clay Scofield].

The House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would provide for the operation of shared micromobility device systems and would require the consent of a county or municipality prior to the use of the system in the county or municipality. The bill now goes to the full House [SB312 by Senator Rodger Smitherman].

The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a House bill that would prohibit an employer from paying any of its employees at wage rates less than those paid to employees of another sex or race for equal work. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB225 by Representative Adline Clarke].

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would exclude certain places or spaces for tent camping, marine slips and recreational vehicles from the state transient occupancy (lodging) tax. The bill now goes to the full House [SB308 by Senator Gerald Allen].

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK:

The Senate substituted and passed a bill that would provide further for the exemptions of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority from state and local taxation. The bill is now pending in the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee [SB154 by Senator Chris Elliott].

The Senate amended and passed a House bill that would authorize the Secretary of State to establish procedures to allow a voter to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list upon proof of having a permanent disability. The bill now returns to the House for action on the Senate amendment [HB174 by Representative Victor Gaston].

The Senate amended and passed a House bill that would require county sheriffs and the Department of Corrections to provide feminine hygiene products for female prisoners under certain conditions. Following concurrence of the House in the Senate amendments, the bill now goes to the Governor [HB308 by Representative Rolanda Hollis].

The Senate carried over a House bill that would require municipal fire departments provide supplemental insurance coverage to pay the claims of a career firefighter who has served 12 consecutive months and has been diagnosed with cancer under certain conditions [HB360 by Representative Phillip Pettus].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would further provide for the process of issuing notice to pay a toll and would authorize the non-renewal of the vehicle registration for vehicles whose owners fail to pay the required toll and administration fees. The bill is now pending in the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee [SB347 by Senator David Sessions].

The Senate passed a bill that would authorize autonomous vehicles operated by an automated driving system under certain circumstances. The bill is now pending in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee [SB47 by Senator Gerald Allen].

The Senate substituted, amended and passed a House bill that would authorize the placement, construction, installation, operation and use of broadband and other advanced communication capabilities and related facilities within electric easements by electric providers. Following concurrence of the House in the Senate amendments, the bill now goes to the Governor [HB400 by Representative Randall Shedd].

The Senate amended and then carried over a House bill that would provide for the registration of certain fantasy sports operators, require the implementation of procedures for consumer protection, and exempt fantasy sports contests from the state prohibition against gambling [HB361 by Representative Kyle South].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would require a municipality to receive approval from the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) prior to being authorized to use automated traffic enforcement systems. The bill is now pending in the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee [SB348 by Senator Gerald Allen].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would authorize local boards of education to sell advertising space on school buses. The bill is now pending in the House Education Policy Committee [SB411 by Senator Greg Reed].

The Senate passed a House bill that would extend the private hospital assessment and Medicaid funding program for fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022. The bill now goes to the Governor [HB176 by Representative Steve Clouse].

The Senate passed a House bill that would extend the current privilege assessment and supplemental privilege assessment imposed on each bed in a nursing facility through August 31, 2022. The bill now goes to the Governor [HB177 by Representative Steve Clouse].

The Senate passed a joint resolution to establish an Advanced Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Task Force charged with reviewing small wireless legislation passed in other states, the Federal Communication Commission’s orders on small cell facilities, and drafting proposed legislation for the 2020 Regular Session. The resolution now goes to the House [SJR by Senator Jabo Waggoner].

The House substituted, amended and passed a proposed Constitutional Amendment which would allow bail unless a person is charged with a capital offense or certain felonies. The bill is now pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee [HB282 by Representative Chip Brown].

The House amended and passed a bill that would require a person convicted of a sex offense involving a person under the age of 13 to undergo chemical castration as a condition of parole. The bill is now pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee [HB379 by Representative Steve Hurst].

The House substituted and passed a bill that would require state colleges and universities to broadly protect all free speech rights of students and faculty and to pass policy statements to implement. The bill is now pending in the Senate Education Policy Committee [HB498 by Representative Matt Fridy].

The House substituted, amended and passed a bill that would allow a licensed wine manufacturer to obtain a wine direct shipper permit to ship directly to residents for personal use. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB350 by Representative Terri Collins].

The House amended and passed a bill that would provide additional penalties for criminal littering and include enhanced penalties for littering of certain items including cigarettes, cigars, containers of urine, and restaurant food containers. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB500 by Representative Margie Wilcox].

The House amended and passed a Senate bill that would allow public schools to offer elective courses focusing on the study of the Bible in grades 6 to 12 and allow for the display of artifacts, monuments, symbols, and texts related to the study of the Bible. The bill now returns to the Senate for action on the House amendments [SB14 by Senator Tim Melson].

The House amended and passed a Senate bill that would update the amnesty and class action provisions of the Simplified Sellers Use Tax (SSUT), clarify transactions for which the tax cannot be collected and remitted, and designate a portion of the county distribution to local boards of education. The bill now returns to the Senate for action on the House amendments [SB153 by Senator Tim Melson].

The House passed a Senate bill that would eliminate marriage licenses and establish a procedure for recording a marriage contract in Probate Court. The bill now goes to the Governor [SB69 by Senator Greg Albritton].

The House passed a bill that would require a child to successfully complete kindergarten before being admitted to the first grade in public elementary schools. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB423 by Representative Pebblin Warren].

The House carried over a Senate bill that would prohibit a municipality that does not already have an occupational tax from imposing an occupational tax unless the tax is authorized by local law [SB305 by Senator Jimmy Holley].

SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK:

A bill was introduced in the Senate that would repeal Act No. 2019-189 (HB314) providing for criminal penalties for the performance of an abortion or attempted abortion. The bill is pending in the Senate Healthcare Committee [SB417 by Senator Vivian Davis Figures].

A bill was introduced in the House that would increase the amount paid to jurors as reimbursement for travel from $.05 per mile to $.58 per mile. The bill is pending in the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee [HB636 by Representative April Weaver].

A bill was introduced in the House that would increase the penalties for the crime of cockfighting. The bill is pending in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee [HB640 by Representative John Rogers].

KUDOS TO A LOCAL ENTITY:

The Senate gave a favorable report to a House Joint Resolution naming the Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the official “Aquarium of Alabama.” The Resolution now awaits action of the Governor [HJR239 by Representative Chip Brown]. [The Dauphin Island Sea Lab was founded in 1971 to provide marine science programs for the state’s colleges and universities. It has expanded over the years to include K-12 education and professional development. The public aquarium opened in 1998.]

 

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Longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes has died

Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

Alvin Holmes, a 44-year veteran of the Alabama Legislature and one of the state’s most outspoken proponents for racial inclusion, has died. Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Over a four-decade-plus career in the Alabama House of Representatives, Holmes was a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow white lawmakers and the white voters who elected them, as he repeatedly challenged the status quo and went headlong at biases and racism that prevented more Black Alabamians from serving in positions of power in the state. 

Holmes was a foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery and led the charge on getting the Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama’s Capitol building. Holmes fought many of his battles, especially the early ones, by himself, and while to his friends he would admit that standing alone wasn’t always pleasant, he never showed such hesitation outwardly, seeming to revel in the hateful words and personal attacks from other lawmakers and the public. 

Many of the fights Holmes began were later finished in federal courtrooms, and they most often led to further advancements for Black Alabamians.

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Alabama Legislative Black Caucus holds meetings on racism in wake of George Floyd death

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.

Members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in recent months have been meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, state law enforcement officials and others to voice their concern over systemic racism in Alabama, the group said in a statement Friday. 

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus members in June met with Ivey, and in follow-up meetings with other state officials and leaders of higher education, members discussed what they believe needs changing to battle racism in Alabama, according to the press release. 

“We are very appreciative of Governor Ivey and all of the officials with whom we have met thus far,” said State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, chairwoman of the ALBC, in a statement. “Our dialogues have been very substantive and productive as the Caucus presented our concerns and recommendations. Our goal is to get to the root of and eradicate racism and anything that communicates hatred, bigotry or divisiveness within the State of Alabama. The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd caused us all to take a closer look at the systemic racism at work here in Alabama.”

ALBC members met with officials from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Sheriffs Association, the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs and Katie Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama along with BCA’s Executive Leadership Committee.

Members also met with The University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John, and Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University. 

In the statement, ALBC members applauded the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees for voting unanimously to rename Nott Hall — named for Josiah Nott, a doctor who believed in white superiority — Honors Hall. 

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“The University of Alabama had already started this endeavor before our meeting with them this past Tuesday,” said State Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, vice chairman of ALBC, in a statement. “That was a great first step and strong leadership was shown. We are looking forward to the other institutions of higher learning in Alabama to do the same as well. The Caucus also hopes that all members of the Alabama Legislature have been inspired to adopt and make meaningful changes in legislation that governs our state.”

Figures said the group of elected senators and representatives are holding these talks, with plans for others, “so that people will stop focusing on Alabama’s sordid past, and instead see a beautiful Alabama present, and the makings of a bright future for all Alabamians.” 

“During each of these meetings, our members have had the opportunity to voice what we feel the necessary changes should be. I just hope this openness to positive change continues throughout the upcoming 2021 Alabama Legislative Session,” said State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, in a statement. 

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State senator calls for Rep. Dismukes to resign over celebration of former Klan leader

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville.

State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, after posting to social media about attending a birthday celebration for Nathanial Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie outside of Selma on Saturday, the same day that late Congressman and Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma. 

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

“The post is bad enough, the timing is even worse, but the real problem is that an elected official in 2020 would attend a celebration of the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings,” Chambliss continued in the tweet. “He has had 24 hours to understand why people are so upset, but his interview on WSFA a few moments ago confirms that he is lacking in understanding and judgment — he should resign immediately.” 

Dismukes in the WSFA interview told a reporter that he hadn’t thought about the memorial for Rep. Lewis and connected it to his attendance at the celebration for the Klan leader. 

Dismukes told WSFA that he won’t apologize for his family’s service in the “war between the states” that he said wasn’t primarily fought over slavery, that he’s not a racist but that he doesn’t see the need for the current racial reconciliation. 

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“We no longer drink from separate water fountains, and we no longer have segregated schools,” Dismukes told WSFA. “You know there’s abundant work opportunities for all colors, there’s abundant scholarship opportunities for all colors. So what are you asking that needs to be racially reconciled?”

Chambliss may be the first Republican lawmaker in Alabama to call for Dismukes’ resignation, but others have expressed concern over his social media post and attendance at the event. 

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post, and said he believes voters should decide whether Dismukes keeps his office. 

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” Lathan said in the statement. 

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“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

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Republicans are concerned by Rep. Dismukes’ Confederate social media posts

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is facing criticism for attending a birthday celebration for the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, on Monday released a statement in response to a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, who was in Selma Saturday celebrating Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest’s birthday over the weekend. This was while much of the rest of the state was celebrating the life of Alabama native and Civil Rights Movement legend Congressman John Lewis.

“The Alabama Republican Caucus is comprised of 75 men and women, each of whom have their own beliefs and principles that guide their lives,” Ledbetter said. “The personal beliefs expressed by any one member do not reflect the beliefs of the others, and their activities outside the Legislature should be considered their own, as well.”

“Several of our Republican Caucus members have reached out to me with concerns about the content and timing of a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, and I, as a House member, share those concerns,” Ledbetter continued. “We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, also released a statement regarding the controversial social media post.

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state,” McCutcheon said. “It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” said Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan. “Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

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“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis,” Lathan continued. “That is the Alabama that we are proud of — showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.”

“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans,” Lathan concluded. “I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

On Sunday, Dismukes shared several pictures from the celebration of Gen. Forest’s birthday, with the caption: “Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!”

After the comments became a social media firestorm that has garnered press attention, Dismukes attempted to explain his position.

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“First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis,” Dismukes said. “That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person. I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.”

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues,” Dismukes continued. “I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican. I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

The Alabama Democratic Party had already come out and demanded that Dismukes resign months ago when it became known that he, a minister, was chaplain for a Sons of the Confederacy chapter in central Alabama.

Dismukes is serving in his first term in the Alabama House. He briefly was a congressional candidate in Alabama’s 2nd District but dropped out of the race before the Republican Primary.

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